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Undercover officers break up gun and drug operation near Gibsonton Elementary School

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee, right, and Detective Larry McKinnon look over some of the weapons seized during an undercover operation that has also led to several felony firearm and drug arrests.

AUSTIN ANTHONY | Times

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee, right, and Detective Larry McKinnon look over some of the weapons seized during an undercover operation that has also led to several felony firearm and drug arrests.

TAMPA — A consignment shop across the street from an elementary school was the site of repeated illegal gun and drug sales, Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee said Tuesday announcing the results of a monthslong investigation.

The inquiry began in July, leading to 10 arrests and three arrest warrants, said Gee, who formed a task squad in 2010 to go after felons with illegal guns.

Those arrested include 10 convicted felons who sold 34 firearms and 49 silencers to undercover detectives, deputies said.

Responding to a July tip from a confidential informant, undercover officers bought guns and drugs from inside a consignment shop, Gee said. The store, at 7724 Gibsonton Drive, was less than 175 feet from Gibsonton Elementary School. Most of the transactions occurred after school hours, deputies said.

The consignment shop did not appear to be directly involved in the crimes, Gee said during a news conference on Tuesday.

The store "drew a cadre of characters," Gee said. "Most of the deals were made independent of the shop." Gee did not say if the shop's owner was aware of the gun sales.

Officers recovered weapons including AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, AK-47 assault rifles, sawed-off shotguns, sniper rifles with night vision and silencers, as well as prescription drugs, crack cocaine and methamphetamine.

"With all this national debate that's going on, this comes down to the issue of how do we keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and how do we keep guns out of the hands of people that are mentally ill and don't have the capacity to have a firearm," Gee said.

The Sheriff's Office is working to trace the guns. Many are missing serial numbers and appear to be stolen, he said. Deputies said they expected to pursue "enhanced charges" against some of those arrested because the crimes occurred next to an elementary school.

"What's significant about this case is the caliber of individuals we're dealing with," Gee said. "These guys are sometimes seven-time convicted felons who are out trading these guns on the street."

Mark Ober, Hillsborough state attorney, said his office would be "vigilant" in following them through the criminal justice system.

"Obviously," he said "When we have convicted felons with firearms near schools, places of assembly in particular, that's troubling."

In 2012, 118 felons with firearms were arrested in Hillsborough County, and deputies impounded 1,500 guns.

Keeley Sheehan may be reached at ksheehan@tampabay.com.

Undercover officers break up gun and drug operation near Gibsonton Elementary School 01/15/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 11:36pm]
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